DCMS blog

Celebrating the voluntary arts

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Robin Simpson

Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts

Are you part of an amateur theatre group? Do you sing in a choral group or go folk dancing? Well you’re one of millions who reguarly take part in the voluntary arts. From 12 to 20 May this important sector will be highlighted and celebrated. Robin Simpson, chief executive of Voluntary Arts, explains why they’re organising the first Voluntary Arts Week.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Voluntary Arts Week, which provides a unique opportunity to highlight and celebrate the often-neglected riches of the UK’s voluntary arts sector.
choralmusic_blog.jpgAround the UK nearly ten million people belong to voluntary arts groups and regularly take part in the voluntary arts. This includes activities such as singing in a choral society, acting in an amateur theatre group, folk dancing, painting, lace-making, calligraphy, pottery and bell-ringing. Every week millions of people take part in voluntary arts rehearsals, classes and meetings. This activity becomes such a vital part of people’s lives that it can be the main focus of their week: the day-job sometimes seems like a mere distraction from the preparation for our next performance or exhibition.
Participation in voluntary arts groups is, for many people, their main opportunity for social interaction – the place to make friends. It is incredibly difficult to measure the importance of the voluntary arts to its participants but it is clear that it makes a massive contribution to the quality of life, wellbeing, happiness and learning of millions of people across the country.

Contribution to society

Voluntary arts activity also has a huge impact on the communities in which it happens. A report published in January 2012 by the Third Sector Research Centre, states that grassroots arts activity makes a “very significant and positive contribution” to the development of civil society.
But all too often this amazing range of creative and fun activity taking place in every corner of the UK seems overlooked and neglected in the national view of our cultural life. Voluntary arts groups are used to being ignored or dismissed as “mere amateurs” or “hobbyists” despite the reality that much voluntary arts is extremely high quality, innovative and creative – Great Art By Everyone (to coin a phrase).

Open Stages

Voluntary Arts is the national representative organisation for the amateur arts and crafts. Among our many campaigns and projects we have recently been working with the Royal Shakespeare Company on the Open Stages project which is breaking down the barriers between professional and amateur theatre.
VoluntaryArtsWeek_blog.jpgWhen we launched this project, Ian Wainwright (RSC Open Stages Producer) went back into the RSC offices in Stratford-upon-Avon the following week and found that RSC staff working in the accounts department, the box office or the canteen were approaching him in the corridor and, rather sheepishly, whispering “actually, I do a bit of amateur theatre myself”. Ian said it was as if we had ignited a “sleeper cell” of amateur theatre participants within the RSC. We are keen to encourage those millions of people who regular take part in the voluntary arts to be proud of their involvement and celebrate their achievements with their work colleagues, friends, family and the general public.

What’s in your window?

From 12 to 20 May 2012 Voluntary Arts is promoting the first UK and Ireland Voluntary Arts Week. Voluntary arts groups across the country will be running special events during the week to raise their profile and celebrate their achievements. Groups can add their events to the Voluntary Arts Week website where the full list will be published. We are also encouraging everyone involved in the voluntary arts to promote their activities through the ‘What’s in your Window?’ campaign, showing their skills by creating a crafty window display at home, or in a local community centre, library or charity shop during Voluntary Arts Week.
Please take a look at the Voluntary Arts Week website, take the time to visit some Voluntary Arts Week events, look out for the What’s in your Window? displays, try taking part in a voluntary arts group for the first time or take the opportunity of Voluntary Arts Week to tell people about your own involvement in the voluntary arts.

Voluntary Arts Week runs from 12 to 20 May 2012. Find out more on the Voluntary Arts Week website.
Choir photo by Digitaloskar on Flickr. Some rights reserved. ‘Materialise sewing cafe’, photo by Voluntary Arts Scotland

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